Preview of the VariZoom DV Sportster

The VariZoom DV Sportster is a vest and articulating arm assembly which is compatible with a wide variety of camera stabilizers including the GlideCam 1000 through 4000 series, SteadiCam Jr., and the VariZoom FlowPod and UltraLite. Owners of these stabilizers will physically benefit from this vest and arm assembly, which displaces the weight of the entire camcorder and stabilizer combination across the operator’s body. I recently had a chance to drop by VariZoom’s office in Austin, Texas to get a first-hand look at the new DV Sportster.

Above: Scott Bradford of VariZoom demonstrates the DV Sportster vest and arm with the VariZoom FlowPod. The DV Sportster is also compatible with the VariZoom UltraLite, GlideCam and SteadiCam Jr. camera stabilizers shown here.

VariZoom’s technical representative Scott Bradford allowed me to shoot some photos of him wearing the DV Sportster, and those images appear throughout this article. The concept behind the DV Sportster is that you’re more likely to get extra mileage out of your camera stabilizer if you did’t have to carry it around by hand all the time. A camera stabilizer is a great tool to use for walk-around shots, but after awhile it tends to put a strain on your arms if you’re shooting for very long. Of course, assuming you’re in great shape and you have a lot of upper body strength, this may not be an issue. But for most folks the combined weight of the camcorder and stabilizer held at arm’s length is a physical burden they would rather not have to deal with.

Above: With the FlowPod mounted, Scott extends the DV Sportster arm for a good look at the entire assembly.

The mechanical system of a vest and articulating arm alleviates the physical stress that’s otherwise placed upon you by manhandling a stabilizer on your own. If you’ve ever used a stabilizer, it’s a great tool to have for walking shots, but even after a short time it becomes very tiring. The fatigue that’s induced by carefully holding a stabilizer and camera at arm’s length for extended periods will eventually impact your shooting in a negative way, because the more tired you become, the more attention you’re devoting to that feeling of physical stress. As a result the quality of your shooting suffers. A vest and arm system removes that problem, enabling you to simply “wear the camera” and go all day long, since your body is carrying the stabilizer and camera weight, instead of your arms having to do that work.

Now that we’ve established the benefits of using a mechanical articulating arm instead of a human arm to hold the camera stabilizer, it’s time to move on to the DV Sportster’s compatibility. This is a sort of universal one-model-fits-all solution, with the ability to carry a variety of stabilizers. You can run with the VariZoom FlowPod and UltraLite, the Steadicam Jr., and the entire series of Glidecam model 1000 to 4000 stabilizers. That’s a big advantage if you own more than one stabilizer, or you’re in a position to borrow different makes of stabilizers from other owners, or if you’re renting out your gear.

Above: Scott demonstrates low mode with the FlowPod.

Although the DV Sportster is perfectly compatible with a wide range of camera stabilizers, it’s especially worth noting the degree of flexibility attained when it’s combined with the VariZoom FlowPod. As a dual-purpose monopod and stabilizer, the FlowPod is by itself quite versatile. It’s an easy procedure to convert from stabilizer mode to monopod; all you have to do is lock the threaded grip handle in place. Attach the FlowPod to the DV Sportster’s articulating arm and you have an affordable, effective vest-mounted stabilizer whose weight is now transferred entirely off of your arms and onto your lower torso. And as seen in the photo above, you can get those interesting “walking the dog” shots with the FlowPod’s optional low-mode kit.

Above: a close-up of the vest.

The padded support vest has four attachment points for its suspension system plus a wide lower “belt” secured by velcro. The lower portion including the position of the articulating arm mounting socket can be adjusted vertically by several inches. Basically you’ll spend a few minutes the first time you put this thing on in order to get it snug and comfortable. Once you’ve tightened all the straps, you shouldn’t have to change anything (unless somebody else wears it)… just use the quick-release buckles to slip it on and off. This vest comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black. For wedding videographers this will lend a certain degree of formality. For everyone else, black continues to be the “pro” color. The articulating arm slips right out of its socket, so you’re not stuck with that thing banging around when you’re taking a break between shots.

Above: a close-up of the articulating arm.

The articulating arm has a manually adjustable tensioning spring (VariZoom calls it the FlowTech) which maintains the position of the stabilizer depending on the combined weight of whatever camcorder and stabilizer you’re using. It’s ideally suited for the stabilizers previously mentioned and most all medium-sized prosumer DV and HDV camcorders. The arm itself articulates on eight sealed bearings, is very light in weight and easily removed from the vest. There’s a universal stabilizer mount which is inserted and locked into the arm without the need for tools. While Scott demonstrated the Sportster to me, I didn’t notice any noise from the FlowTech spring… this is a very quiet rig.

Above: Scott is using the VariZoom UltraLite with the DV Sportster.

They key to using a stabilizer effectively with any vest and articulating arm is to practice, practice, practice. It’s sort of like learning a new, special way to walk. Toward this end VariZoom includes a training DVD which covers the operational basics of using the DV Sportster. The stabilizer and arm combination basically means that you’re wearing the camera. Developing the techniques required for smooth movement while shooting requires the devotion of some time with the rig. Be sure to record your practice sessions with a tape in your stabilizer-mounted camera so that you can review the results later. The process is somewhat similar to learning how to play a musical instrument… the more effort you put into practicing, the better your performance will become.

Above: the complete DV Sportster kit includes the support vest, articulating arm, stabilizer mount and a soft-sided carrying case.

Although Scott Bradford is the one who appears in these photos with the DV Sportster, I actually tried it on myself and walked around with it a little. I’d like to offer one operational tip: go ahead and switch on your camera’s internal image stabilization. Having it on should help to smooth out any shake that’s present. And zoom out to full wide. That’s how most stabilizer shots are done anyway.

In the near future we’re going to organize a bonafide working review of the Sportster by a writer who is experienced with Steadicam-style support systems, and give you an idea of how the Sportster performs in real-world shooting situations. Look for that to happen here very soon.

The VariZoom DV Sportster kit is currently offered at an
introductory price of $799 by VariZoom Lens Controls.

Thrown together by Chris Hurd.

Please direct questions to the DV Info Net Community Forums.

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About The Author

Chris Hurd

After completing my degree in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas, I managed a video production studio "back in the tape days" while waiting for the digital video revolution to arrive and for the internet to become mainstream. Things started to get interesting in November of 1997 when I launched The XL1 Watchdog, my first web site dedicated to digital video technology. In January of 2001, that site morphed into DV Info Net — the Digital Video Information Network. More than fifteen years later, the longevity of DV Info Net is exceeded now only by its popularity and reputation as one of the leading technology information resources in the broadcast and professional video market.

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